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Marvel Boy of the 1950s (Atlas Comics)

Marvel Boy

(Bob Grayson profile #1 - 1950s version)


Context

This profile is for Marvel Boy (Robert Grayson) as published by Timely Comics during the early 1950s. It’s the Golden Age version of the character.

He was a two-fisted, sharp-eyed, science-minded, bright super-hero from another planet (though of course he looked like an handsome blond, White young man). His legacy was surprisingly large – beyond the modernized version as The Uranian, he directly inspired Quasar who in turn had an impact on many aspects of the Marvel Universe.

Though the events in comics during these years aren’t directly in continuity, they inform the current Marvel Universe. For fans of vintage stories, this profile will discuss adapting the depicted event so they can be in continuity with the Marvel Universe.


“Giant meteors ! Quick — more power from the atomic repulse guns ! We’ve got to stop them before they pulverise the Earth !”


Background

  • Real Name: Robert “Bob” Grayson. Nobody ever calls him “Robert”, including his father. But his monogrammed pills box reads “RG”.
  • Other Aliases: The Great Grayson (as a circus performer).
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Professor Matthew Horace Grayson (father), mother (name unrevealed, deceased), sister (name unrevealed, deceased).
  • Group Affiliation: None.
  • Base Of Operations: Both the Grayson Lab on Uranus and what seems to be New York City on Earth.
  • Height: 5’10” Weight: 170 lbs.
  • Eyes: Quite blue Hair: Quite blond


Powers and Abilities

Bob Grayson can run faster and fight a little harder than mortal men, has high levels of intelligence (his IQ is 360) and has a power of ’mental telepathy‘ – which allows him to speak all languages known by the people he’s interacting with and perceive surface thoughts.

As long as he takes his pills to retain his Uranus-developed qualities, Marvel Boy seems abnormally strong, tough and swift – whether he has actual superhuman strength is unclear. He also demonstrates tremendous athletic abilities – enough to be hired as a circus aerialist and high wire performer.

Marvel Boy’s ’mental telepathy‘ includes a heightened sixth sense allowing him to jump to correct conclusions based on very little information. This is chiefly modelled by his WIL, but the GM should also consider making small alterations to the plot to better correspond to Marvel Boy’s hypotheses, thus making him intuitively correct.

In particular, the “this is likely a Communist plot !” hypothesis should always be correct even if it makes no sense.

Marvel Boy (Bob Grayson) and his father

Marvel Boy once briefly used his mental telepathy to control a weak-willed zombie, but this is unusual (Power Stunt in DC Heroes, a form of Heroic Feat in DC Adventures. He also demonstrated the ability to commit long documents to memory with perfect recall.

Marvel Boy, in keeping with his general Apollonian look, is charismatic and the authorities will easily trust him… unless the story says they won’t. He seems to be a genuine hit with women, and it is common for a female admirer he just met to risk her life to provide him with vital information about some nefarious plot.

On Uranus, Marvel Boy is often aided by the members of his youth patrol, seemingly a paramilitary organisation of volunteers with access to armed spaceships.

Wonder of the Atomic Age

Originally, Marvel Boy takes special uranium pill daily because Earth’s atmosphere is somewhat toxic to him. If he cannot, he will lose his Uranus-developed qualities and might eventually develop a fatal medical condition. This is what we’ve built in the stats since it’s the original concept, but it keeps changing – by the next story in the same issue they already work differently.

A common variant is that taking a pill turns Bob Grayson into Marvel Boy, complete with costume. There’s a vague implication that he’s not just changing into costume by taking a capsule, but has an alter-ego.

One hypothesis to reconcile the two approaches is that there are two kinds of capsules – a low dosage allows his Uranus-developed powers to fade but protects his health, and a high dosage restores his Uranus-developed powers.

In Marvel Boy #02, swallowing an uranium pill apparently allows him to fly (conservatively modelled as Jumping) and basks him in an energy aura. This was also reminiscent of a super-heroic alter ego.

Atomic kit

Marvel Boy sports less-than-lethal weapons – wristbands with large gemstones that can project a dazzling beam of light. These bracers were built by his father, who forbade him to kill except in defence of innocent life.

Marvel Boy (Timely Comics) using his bracers' flash power then his fists

He also has a flying saucer, of course. This spacecraft is practically silent, but could reach the distant planet Astros within minutes – though by the same token it took an hour to go from New York City to Sicily (about 4,500 miles, or 7,000 kilometres).

By the second issue it becomes a sort of large starfighter rather than a saucer, a general look it retains for the rest of the run. One of the last stories reveal that it is called the Silver Bullet.

The Bullet can hold about three weeks of provisions, and has a small stock of scientific and exploration supplies such as oxygen masks, Geiger counters, radiation suits and the like.


History

Bob Grayson was born around 1931 – the son of Professor Matthew Grayson, a semi-famous atomic scientist at Van Dyke University. His mother and older sister were killed in 1934 when a Nazi anti-aircraft battery mistook their plane for a military craft and shot it down.

This tragedy led Professor Grayson to the conclusion that Earth was a horrible place and not suited for raising a child ; his experience with the Great Depression may also have shaped his reasoning. Being a genius with special theories about atomic energy, Grayson built a nuclear-powered rocketship in secret. His goal was to leave Earth with his son and live on the Moon.

However, as it was about to reach the Moon, the rocket was suddenly attracted toward Uranus.

(In the story this because the uranium aboard the rocket’s was attracted toward the vast masses of uranium on Uranus, like iron by a magnet. Beyond the imaginary physics this is folk etymology. Uranus is not believed to hold special amounts of uranium – the mineral was simply named that way to honour the recent discovery of the planet.)

Marvel Boy (Bob Grayson) fights pirates (cover illustration)

Landing on Uranus, Grayson and his young son made a staggering discovery – the atmosphere was breathable, the gravity close to 1G and the environment somewhat Earth-like. Furthermore it was inhabited by human-looking people who were kind, noble, peaceful and ultra-intelligent (and all looked like White males, of course).

Representatives of this perfect civilisation telepathically learned English in instants and greeted the Graysons. Over the year, they helped Professor Grayson build his lab and raise his son, thanks to their median IQ of 356.

Professor Grayson did not plan to abandon Earth, though. Bob grew up to possess quasi-superhuman abilities thanks to Uranian education and training. When he reached his 20s, his father wanted him to return to Earth to save it from self-destruction by combating all evil elements, political and criminal.

Whilst Professor Grayson was now too old to make the trip back, he prepared special pills for Bob to withstand the Terran atmosphere – as well as a flying saucer and non-lethal weaponry.

What spurred the older Grayson into action was the emergence of a new continent on Earth, triggering catastrophes and a claim-staking race between Cold War militaries. However, it was the heimatloss pirate Count Varron, whose ship had been caught by the emerging land mass, who first laid claim to it.

Bob Grayson’s flying saucer soon investigated the new continent.

Return to Earth

Marvel Boy soon met the natives – a civilisation which had been trapped underground 1,200 years prior, and had adapted to life under the sea. However, the pirates attacked them to defend their claim to the land. Shocked by this brutality the natives sunk the landmass they had raised and abandoned their plans to return to surface life.

Marvel Boy (Bob Grayson) face closeup

(This story could still be in continuity, with the natives being a lost Atlantean colony or an Inhuman offshoot (like the Bird People who adopted Red Raven) and the ’continent‘ being just an island).

Bob Grayson soon got a job in the United States as a science journalist for the Daily Monitor. After he arranged for an interview with one Professor Heathrow Vance, he saw Vance gain powers in an accident. Professor Vance became the villainous Great Video, but Marvel Boy foiled him and depowered him.

Astrosmash

Professor Grayson then detected large meteors headed for Earth, and had his son investigate. Marvel Boy determined that it was a plot by the Astro-Men. Their leader, Saramin, Emperor of the Seven Orbits of the Universe, was bombarding Earth using giant blasting guns to propel bits of the Astro-Men’s planet, Astros.

The Astro-Men captured Marvel Boy but he escaped and returned to Earth just as the first meteors hit, with devastating effects.

Marvel Boy (Bob Grayson) splash page

Briefing the United Nations, Marvel Boy had them combine global knowledge of atomic energy to build super-cannons that could destroy the incoming meteors. The dastardly “Eastern Union” refused to join the effort, but the repulse-guns were successful. When the Astro-Men invaded they thus encountered stiff resistance from the UN, and Earth’s air forces were victorious. Emperor Saramin was captured.

t this point the despicable Eastern Union launched an all-out assault against the United Nations. Marvel Boy swiftly flew to Astros with Saramin and they launched more meteors at the fiendish godless Communist aggressors, pummelling them into surrendering. Horrified by the damage wrought to Earth — as Astros had never known total war — Saramin had his Astro-Men come live on Earth to help with the rebuilding.

(Fitting this story into continuity also requires lowering the scale – for instance a week of skirmishes in the Vienna/Bratislava area after a large alien ship attacks Vienna and Marvel Boy helps repulse it by having Austrian scientists build an anti-orbital cannon. The repentant aliens then come live in Austria.)

I’m into insurance

Having become an insurance investigator for Amalgamated Insurance Company, Marvel Boy was sent to investigate suspicious fires at a circus. Grayson was hired as an aerialist (heh) as his cover, and discussing with equestrienne Starr Ryder led him to suspect Marvo the Mind-Reader.

Marvo tried to kill him by stealing his uranium pills, but Grayson nevertheless exposed his schemes. Ryder established herself in Los Angeles and became a contact of Marvel Boy, seemingly having a romantic interest in him.

(For some cheap non-canon fun, the Bonham Circus featured in the story could be the predecessor of the Circus of Crime in the early Marvel Universe.)

Marvel Boy (Bob Grayson) at the rocketship base

Starr Ryder and another young Angeleno, Pete Mason, learned that immense underground fires raged in Pennsylvania coal mines and couldn’t be put out. They summoned Marvel Boy from Uranus to investigate, and our hero soon discovered that the fire might destroy the entire American coal reserves.

Worse, if the two main fires met in New York, the entire state could be blown up. Correctly assuming that such a fire could only be a Communist plot, Marvel Boy arrested the scheming mine owners then blasted the main fire using crushed uranium capsules. Conventional firefighting could handle the rest.

Bob Grayson’s next insurance investigation concerned one Omar Khayam Rasch, the head of a spiritualist cult. Rasch was the main beneficiary of too many life insurance policies – the owners of which had a marked tendency to die.

The ostensibly Middle-Eastern Rasch inevitably turned out to be the head of a criminal Satanist Muslim death cult, as Grayson discovered thanks to a female admirer within the cult. Marvel Boy presented a tight case to his employer and the police and the cult was taken down.

Return to Uranus

As it turned out, even the perfect Uranian society was not immune to the dreadful perils of Communism engineered by evil foreigners. Marvel Boy determined that the rabble-rousers were predictably backed by spies from the planet Satana.

After violently dispersing the crowds for the greater good, Marvel Boy left for Satana, assaulted guards and kidnapped the Princess. He also discovered that Satana’s orbit was decaying and that the locals were scheming to invade Uranus before their home world plunged into their sun.

Stalwart Uranian scientists devised a solution to stabilise Satana’s orbit, and Marvel Boy sent the Princess back with the equations.

Marvel Boy (Bob Grayson)'s rocket ship

Marvel Boy then stopped a Communist plot involving bombs planted in major FBI installations. Some time later he flew to Sicily to rescue Starr Ryder’s father, an archaeologist who had been capture by a vampire called Madame La Morte.

Meanwhile, back on Uranus, the water commissioner had enlisted the help of the police to deprive the citizens of water, devastating the population with a terrible drought. Marvel Boy exposed the awful scheme, reestablished the inflow of water, vanquished the rogue police with the help of his youth patrol and arrested the rogue water commissioner.

A man of two planets

In 1951, Ms. Diana Frost requested the services an insurance investigator as the police did not believe her fantastic story about being harassed by the ghost of her father. Within hours, Marvel Boy discovered that the ’ghost‘ was the still-living Mr. Frost, who was in cahoots with the family doctor to kill Ms. Frost – who had inherited everything from Mr. Frost’s late wife.

And they would have gotten away with it, too, if not for this meddling kid !

Marvel Boy’s next case involved both the kidnapping of Dr. Noiro, a key scientist working on atomic research, and the resurgence of an ancient Native American curse killing White men who approached the Grand Canyon. This was all an alien plot masterminded by Origin Rex – an agent from another constellation and probably a Communist.

Rex kidnapped Marvel Boy but the hero escaped and nuked the Grand Canyon with the help of the US military. He then arrested Origin Rex and deduced that the quasi-human crypto-commie had been Dr. Noiro all along, because it is “Orion” spelled backward.

Marvel Boy (Bob Grayson) and a senator

Rogue Uranians attempted to extort atomic secrets from Marvel Boy by kidnapping Professor Grayson in his lab, and a young Uranian named Lilli on Earth. Marvel Boy turned the tables on the guys on Uranus, heroically beating them until they agreed to send a message to Earth luring their accomplices into a police trap.

Marvel Boy was next sent to debunk the act of an amazing magician (who turned out to be a powerful time traveller), before once again clashing with a dastardly Communist plot, where a mind-controlling pen was used to force an American millionaire to send enormous checks to the Soviet government.

Finally, Bob Grayson foiled the plot of Professor Diminutio, an alien scientist who had invented a special fabric which suddenly and forcefully shrunk when in contact with human flesh. Diminutio’s plan was to have clothing made out of the fabric so as to murder the entire American population through their attire.

However, Marvel Boy recognised the material and tricked Diminutio, arresting him and seizing his stocks of fabric.

And that was it… until, as usual, Roy Thomas brought him back after a fashion.


Description

See illustrations.


Personality

Marvel Boy is a clear-eyed, superiorly intelligent and dedicated Hero. He’s fearless and quick-thinking, and is at once a fighter, a technologist, a leader, an investigator, etc. as well as a superior specimen endlessly struggling for the common good.

The super-hero stories are often hybridised with other genres, and Marvel Boy will thus commonly act like a daring air ace sort of hero, or a daring two-fisted adventurer. In the detective-type stories, he becomes an observant sleuth who explained how he pieced together the case in a large word balloon at the end.

Marvel Boy (Timely Comics) back alley brawl

One of his few distinctive features (aside from his strong Apollonian vibe) is that he’s a positivist hero striving for SCIENCE! and the wonders of modern atomic energy. His solutions often involve ’atomic science‘, and he’s quick to show disdain toward the supposedly supernatural.

Unlike many 1950s American comic book heroes, Marvel Boy III is not actively xenophobic – it ’just turns out‘ that the Communists, Muslims, etc. he encounters are all intrinsically and irredeemably evil, vicious and murderous.

Originally, Marvel Boy is ethical in his dealings with everyone, but he soons aligns with the Atlas anti-Communist screed. This means that normal rules of conduct cease to apply when it comes to Communists (or quasi-Communists), and that Uranus suddenly ceases being a perfect society as the evils of Communism threaten everyone.

Marvel Boy doesn’t have a secret ID – people know that Bob Grayson of Amalgamated Insurance is the science hero from Uranus.


Quotes

“I’ll do my best, dad ! Good-bye !”

“These men are evil ! They would kill all who stand in their way !”

“What in the great universe hit me ?”

“But you blinded yourself to the possibility that some freedom-loving citizen might get wise to your devilish plot before it matured ! Well, I’m that citizen, Mr. ex-water commissioner !”

“Jumpin’ thunder ! That rock didn’t just bounce down here by itself ! Someone is still alive up there ! Well look out mister – here I come !”


DC Universe History

In the DCU, Marvel Boy could replace the “Starman of 1951”. In the DCU this Starman was an alternate identity briefly used by Bruce Wayne (pre-Crisis) or Charles McNider (post-Crisis), and involved in a few time-travel adventures with modern bearers of the Starman name.

Marvel Boy (Timely Comics) back alley changes puff of smoke

In this hypothesis, Starman (Bob Grayson) would have been active for a few years and sent to Earth from Uranus to hold the line after the Justice Society disbanded. He chiefly would have fought against… wait for it… Communists.


Comic book history notes

Bob Grayson was the third Marvel Boy, following on the heels of two brief-lived versions of Marvel Boy (Martin Burns) published by Timely Comics. He was a bit Superman-like and started in his own title, which by issue #03 became Astonishing (not to be confused with Astonishing Tales, a later Marvel publication).

The super-hero books were not faring well in the post-war environment, and the key hero titles at Atlas, inherited from Timely (Human Torch, Captain America and Sub-Mariner) had been recently discontinued. Marvel Boy was an early attempt to bring super-heroes back, but by issue #7 Astonishing had become an ordinary short-horror-stories-with-shock-ending anthology à la EC Comics.

Atlas would make other attempts, this time with bringing back a few flagship Timely heroes in Young Men, but the resurgence of the super-hero genre would have to wait until 1956 and the arrival of Barry Allen, the new Flash, in the pages of Showcase – which is the usual date for the start of the Silver Age.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

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Marvel Boy

Dex: 07 Str: 05 Bod: 05 Motivation: Responsibility
Int: 06 Wil: 10 Min: 06 Occupation: Hero, Insurance investigator
Inf: 06 Aur: 06 Spi: 06 Resources {or Wealth}: 005
Init: 017 HP: 050

Powers:
Comprehend Languages: 12, Data storage: 05, Jumping: 05, Mind probe: 01, Running: 05

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Comprehend Languages is Contingent Upon Mind Probe.
  • Mind probe is limited to superficial thoughts.
  • Jumping is Minor Marginal.

Skills:
Acrobatics (Athletics, Climbing)*: 07, Military science (Demolition): 06, Scientist: 06, Vehicles (Land, Space): 04

Bonuses and Limitations:
Military Science is Contingent Upon Scientist.

Advantages:
Attractive, Confident (Professor Grayson – his father), Familiarity (Insurance fraud), Language (Uranian language), Popularity, Sharp Eye.

Bonuses and Limitations:
Sharp Eye only applies to spotting clues in detective stories.

Connections:
Youth Patrol (High), Amalgamated Insurance Company (Low), American Police Forces (Low).

Drawbacks:
Attack Vulnerability (-1CS OV/RV vs. Blindside Attacks), Oblivious, Loss Vulnerability (if breathing Earth’s atmosphere Marvel Boy must take his uranium pills every day lest all of his Attributes drop to 02 and he loses all of his Powers).

Bonuses and Limitations:
Oblivious only applies when attempting to detect traps and ambushes.

Equipment:

  • WRISTBANDS [BODY 12, Flash: 08].
  • SILVER BULLET [BODY 15 STR 12, Flight: 38, Radio communications: 20, Sealed systems: 16, Loss Vulnerability: Flight drops to 13 in an atmosphere, Advantage: Headquarters (Confined)].
  • “Hydrogenised uranium capsules”. Beyond the properties discussed below, Marvel Boy has used his pills for unusual applications :
    • 20 capsules crushed into powder and jammed into a fissure exploded when exposed to flame (Bomb: 15).
    • At one point he has a young woman take a capsule, and it boosts her STR score by one AP.
    • It is implied that the pills can let him function without sufficient food and water.

Knockout attacks

Formally, Marvel Boy’s Attack Vulnerability should be handled as a Genre Rule. Everyone in the Genre is vulnerable to being bushwacked and hit on the head – a common Genre Rule in 1940s and 1950s adventure and super-heroes comics. This entry treats it as an attribute of the character for convenience’s sake.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Marvel Boy and Astonishing comics in the Golden Age proto-Marvel Universe.

Helper(s): Gareth Lewis. One illustration by RonnieThunderbolts.

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